France / Garden and Landscapes / Historic Preservation / History / International

Le Nôtre’s Versailles

The Sun King’s Garden

In yesterday’s post I spoke about Le Nôtre’s Vaux-le-Vicomte garden.Today I will take time to describe his other greatest masterpiece, the Versailles garden, which was in fact inspired by the grounds of Fouquet’s Vaux-le -Victomte.

Versailles, France

As we left off in the story, Louis XIV had requested for a royal tour of the popular Vaux garden as a guise for his master plan to kill Fouquet. Louis XIV had developed this ill-will towards him when learning of his elaborate expenditures and public displays of extravagant celebrations. Only a week after his visit, he had Fouquet arrested and hijacked all of Fouquet’s best architects, painters, sculptures and of course Le Nôtre and ordered a transformation of his family’s land in Versailles into an elaborate spectacle.

Versailles is such a large garden it could take days to fully explore and enjoy every inch of the intricate design. Some of the key features of the estate include:

  • Orangerie

    Orangerie – a building as a place where citrus trees were often wintered in tubs under cover, surviving through harsh frosts though not expected to flower and fruit. The orangery provided a luxurious extension of the normal range and season of woody plants, extending the protection. King Louis XIV had 3000 orange trees.

  • Pools, basins, fountains and canals.
  • Parterre de Latone

    Parterre de Latone – a marble figure of Latona holding her children, Apollo and Diana for the centerpiece of the Fountain of Latona, from 1668 to 1670. The fountain was altered between 1687 and 1689 and given it its current pyramidal form.

  • Bassin d’Apollon– Created in 1671, the Bassin d’Apollon represents the God Apollo on his cart as the sun rises. Four horses drag his cart of the Sun out of the sea and across the sky. The sculpture is made of lead and used to be gilded.

    Bassin d’Apollon

  • Menagerie – a form of keeping common and exotic animals in captivity that preceded the modern zoological garden. The term was first used in seventeenth century France in reference to the management of household or domestic stock. Versailles housed tigers, lions, and leopards.

    Menagerie, Versallies

It represented the first menagerie according to Baroque style. The prominent feature of Baroque menageries was the circular layout, in the middle of which stood a beautiful pavilion. Around this pavilion was a walking path and outside this path were the enclosures and cages. Each enclosure had a house or stable at the far end for the animals and was bounded on three sides with walls. There were bars only in the direction of the pavilion.

  • Canals – The land had presented some difficulty to construction because of it’s marshy composition however, a series of canals to ensure adequate drainage.
  • bosquets – Set pieces decorated with fountains and statues, known as “green” rooms designed for entertainment. In Versailles there were 17 bosquets in the original design (the circular areas in the front of the chateau).

Although it is evident that Kind Louis XIV’s main motivation for Versailles was to demonstrate his power and importance in France, he did take interest in his gardens and plants – often securing flowers be on site at all times.

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